The public library system in St. Louis had its beginning in the Public School Library which was opened in 1860 at Fifth and Olive Streets, with about 600 volumes. By 1874, when it contained over 25,000 books, the library was moved into the Polytechnical Building at Seventh and Chestnut Streets. This structure, which was completed in 1867, also housed the offices of the school board and a branch high school. When the present Board of Education Building at Ninth and Locust Streets was completed in 1893, the library moved there and became a free public library for the use of the citizens of St. Louis. The Central Public Library at 13th and Olive Streets was completed in 1912 on the site of the old Exposition Building.
The Mercantile Library, which was opened to the public in 1846, was the first of its kind west of the Mississippi. After several years in various quarters, the library moved into its own building at Fifth and Locust Streets in 1851. This structure had a large hall on its upper floor, where concerts and lectures were given. The library now occupies the top floors of the building at the same location. This building, built in 1889 and since remodeled, houses the First National Bank on its lower floors.